Established 1958 ~ Hardball Business Litigation & Complex Negotiations

Philadelphia Employment Lawyers: SEPTA Claim

Court Rejects Appeal by Former SEPTA Worker on Claims for Hostile Work Environment and Discrimination

On August 8, 2016, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit denied the appeal of former SEPTA employee Marie Selvato, who sued SEPTA after she was seen at a taping of “Live with Kelly & Michael” while on sick leave. Selvato brought an action against former employee SEPTA for hostile work environment and discrimination. Selvato claimed she was sexually harassed between 2004 until she was terminated. Selvato’s claims were dismissed last year when U.S. District Judge Wendy Beetlestone of the Eastern District of Pennsylvania granted summary judgement to SEPTA, finding that she failed to show a connection between her termination and sexual harassment allegations.

Pennsylvania law requires claimants to first file a hostile work environment claim with the EEOC which requires that claims must be filed within 300 days of unlawful employment action. Mandel v. M & Q Packaging Corp., 706 F.3d 157, 165 (3d Cir. 2013). The trial court ruled that most of Selvato’s claims fell outside of this 300 day window. Selvato’s claims stemmed from instances of alleged sexual harassment between 2004 and 2012. However, a majority of the instances occurred between 2004 and 2009. Selvato claimed her supervisor James Stevens made two remarks within the 300 day window that rise to the level of sexual harassment. Stevens told her that he was “stalking her Facebook pictures” because he had gone to school with Selvato’s sister. He also told Selvato that he would like to “pet” a flower on her blouse because it looked soft. The Eastern District granted summary judgment against Selvato, which she subsequently appealed.

To make a hostile work environment claim, Selvato had the prima facie burden of proffering evidence to show the following elements: “1) the employee suffered intentional discrimination because of his/her sex, 2) the discrimination was severe or pervasive, 3) the discrimination detrimentally affected the plaintiff, 4) the discrimination would detrimentally affect a reasonable person in like circumstances, and 5) the existence of respondeat superior liability.” Mandel, 706 F.3d at 165. The Court of Appeals agreed with the lower courts conclusion that these comments, though offensive, did not rise to the level of physical threat necessary to establish a prima facie hostile work environment claim. The Court of Appeals affirmed the dismissal of the discrimination claim as well citing lack of evidence and pure speculation by Selvato. 

Selvato v. SEPTA, No. 15-3686, 2016 U.S. App. LEXIS 14524 (3d Cir. Aug. 8, 2016)

For more information, call our employment lawyers in Philadelphia at Sidkoff, Pincus & Green at 215-574-0600 or contact us online.